Doctrine 2. The Trinity

Occasionally in history a belief has been the cause of massive division and contention. Throughout the history of the church, apart from contention over grace/works salvation, the greatest source of contention has been over the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. The main reason for this has to be because of the dullness of the minds of men when trying to understand God, and our pride. You see, as Christians we try to work out who this God is that we worship and we fail. We fail because we start off by believing that we actually can understand God; a grave error. As soon as we try to start to fit God in a box so that we can understand Him we end up with a god of our own inventing. The study of God (theology) must always be done reverently and humbly. With that in mind I’ll seek to explore what God tells us about himself in the Scriptures.

The Scriptures claim that: God is one God in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

1. Firstly God says that He is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 says “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Also: Isa 44:6, Isa 45:21-22, 1 Cor 8:4-6)

2. God is also a fellowship: three persons. Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” There is no Old Testament that verse that explicitly states God’s tri-unity most (including this verse) don’t prove more than the plurality of God. However, this does not mean that we don’t know that God is trinity. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands the church to make disciples of all nations “baptising them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Here Jesus explicitly states that the one name of God (remember from last week’s article that God’s name summarises all that He is) is that of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit and thus Trinity. Furthermore, throughout the scriptures, when the Persons of the Trinity are spoken of, the attributes of God are ascribed to them.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it like this: “There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” Berkhof also, very helpfully, states the doctrine of the trinity like this: “a. There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence. b. In this one Divine Being there are three Persons or individual subsistences, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. c. The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons. d. The subsistence and operation of the three persons in the divine Being is marked by a certain definite order. e. There are certain personal attributes by which the three persons are distinguished. f. The Church confesses the Trinity to be a mystery beyond the comprehension of man.”

These two statements of the unity and plurality in God are hard to understand because they are talking about a God who is so much bigger than our brains! We must be convinced that we are to take God at his word and fit together these two statements without trying to make them ‘fit’, though there are some helpful ways of trying to understand how it works.

The fact that God is trinity has many, many very exciting implications in the Christian life. The biggest one as far as I am concerned is the fact that with a God who is fundamentally relational (he is love) it makes perfect sense for us to relate to one another. When I build a relationship with others around me (be that, friends, family, postman or Mr. nobody-knows-who-he-is) I am imitating God! More exciting than that, the closer I become to another in a relationship, the more I am imitating God. We are relational because God is. Which means a few things:

a. We should seek to imitate God. For all of us that means developing healthy, godly, relationships with others. How are your relationships?
b. We should be warned. To consistently back out of relationships with others (for whatever reason) is to deny our nature and, more importantly, the image of God in us. This will have long-term harmful consequences and doesn’t please God.
c. We must be encouraged. If God wants us to imitate Him, of course he’ll help us when we are struggling in relationships. It may be that you struggle trying to develop a relationship with somebody who consistently annoys you, rejects you or worse. Well, that ground is familiar to Jesus so speak to Him about it.

Are you an imitator of God and do you delight in it?

With any comments or questions that we could discuss about all of this, please comment below :).


Article by Thomas van den Broek

3 comments:

  1. Thomas,

    Good article.

    To push this a bit - do you think that The Doctrine of the Trinity could therefore be used to challenge non-Christians, Muslims etc. as to where relationships ultimately originate. In other words could the Trinity be a useful belief we use to challenge non-Christians that their big quest for relationships (demonstrated in days like today) is grounded only in the God of Scripture?

    Kip' Chelashaw

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  2. Kip , thanks for your response. Yeah that makes sense. Would you try rouse that as a purely logical argument (Islam can't be true because it doesn't account for the relationships that we know exist, therefore it's a logically flawed philosophy) or as an appeal to the needs of the Muslim (you are searching for a deeper relationship that won't break down but you won't find it in Allah because he isn't relational, you'll only find it in the God of the scriptures)?

    Have you ever tried this approach? I have gone pretty close to the first of those arguments before but it hasn't been very well received at all.

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  3. Thomas,

    I use both approaches but vary it depending on the context. I've used the logical argument when people have been really aggressive about their opposition to the Trinity (e.g. when Muslims keep going on about Christianity's apparent polytheism!). However, I've used the other more gentle approach of saying here in the Trinity you'll find the ultimate basis for the thing you're looking for (relationships) with more agnostic types who seem to be on a quest for ultimate reality e.g. new age types (as some of my uni friends were/are). This latter approach obviously depends on knowing someone reasonably well while the former doesn't. And yes the former approach isn't often well received but that tends to happen with the presuppositional apologetics/evangelism.

    K

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